August 19, 2009

where everyone is bilingual

bilingualToday our son Jack turns 5!  He’s been waiting for this day for at least 9 months.  It’s amazing to see how much he’s changed in the past year.  Besides the potty jokes and name calling that come with turning 5, he is very compassionate with his 2 year old sister and treats every day like it’s an all day party.    He’s very social and adventurous like his dad.

I realized today how much exposure Jack gets to Mexican culture.  We live in the San Francisco bay area and Spanish is all around us.    We speak English natively at home, but there are deep roots in Mexico and Spain in our family.  My father, Jack’s grandfather, grew up in Mexico City and has a Mexican grandmother.  His family is mostly from Irish heritage and from California but moved to Mexico to so his father could work with a global engineering firm.  I remember the first time I noticed that my dad could speak Spanish.  I was 8 and we were in a cab in Puerto Vallarta and he was talking to the cabbie.  I was fascinated that my dad could speak in what seemed to be secret code.  I vowed to learn it myself someday.

I studied Spanish in high school, lived in Mexico for a summer before college, then minored in Spanish Literature and lived in Barcelona for a year in college.  Maybe it was in my genes but I always had an ear for language and could eventually pass for a native speaker.   I went on to work for a global manufacturing company in my 20s.  I would visit customers and conduct technical training in Spanish in Mexico, Argentina, Costa Rica, and even Brazil.

I often take my Spanish speaking skills for granted.   Our nanny, Ana, is from Mexico and prefers to speak Spanish with me.  We speak Spanish every day in front of the kids, discussing the day’s plans, etc.    Jack often plays with the nanny’s daughter who speaks a combination of English and Spanish.  Jack has picked up a lot of Spanish as younger kids do.  One of his first words was “jugo” for juice.  Some of the kids shows on TV also feature bilingual characters.

I suppose that to a 5 year old Californian, especially a third generation one, it just seem natural that everyone is bilingual.  I’ve been impressed with his ability to absorb Spanish and I’m sure he’ll be a fully fluent speaker just like his dad and his grandfather before him.  Feliz cumpleanos, Jack!